CEOL - Kosovar Albanians Lift Anti-Russian Blockade

PRISTINA, Nov 23, 1999 -- (Reuters) Kosovar Albanians on Monday lifted a three-month-old roadblock protest against plans to deploy Russian troops in the town of Orahovac, a spokesman for the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force said.

The protesters used trucks, cars and tractors on August 23 to set up roadblocks on all routes into the southwestern town and had kept up the blockade ever since.

Russians are widely mistrusted by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority as traditional allies of the Serbs, who subjected Albanians to a decade of repression ended by NATO's 11-week bombing campaign of Yugoslavia earlier this year.

The protesters also alleged that Russian mercenaries fought alongside Serbs against Albanians in the Orahovac area.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Michalski, a spokesman for Kosovo's German-led southern military zone, said no decision had been reached on how to solve the problem of the Russian deployment but the protesters had decided to free up the roads.

"All the roads can now be used freely," Michalski told Reuters by satellite telephone from German headquarters in the city of Prizren.

Michalski said the blockade had been getting thinner and thinner in recent weeks but he was not aware of the reason given by the organizers for lifting it.

"That would all be speculation at the moment," he said. "The fact is that all the roads can be used."

The Russians were scheduled to take over from Dutch troops in Orahovac in August but the protest forced KFOR to abandon the plan for the moment and begin talks with the protesters.

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